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small metal objects: deals and dependencies

bec tudor

Bec Tudor is a writer and researcher based in Hobart. Her interests include fine art, philosophy, environmental thought, education and community.

Small Metal Objects Small Metal Objects
photo Bec Tudor
Scouring the scattered groups passing between the restaurants and bars in workday twilight I am trying to match the intimate conversation coming through my headphones to people in the square. Two males speak frankly about love, relationships and loyalty. The lines are delivered slowly and deliberately. Steve is depressed, he wants a girlfriend, he’s also wondering if he is gay. From my vantage point on the raked seating tucked into the side of Salamanca Square I focus briefly on a group of young men smoking. The other guy, Gary, is understanding, “You’ll work it out mate…I just want to see you happy.”

Disparate piano notes and a deep repeated reverberation form an ambient, almost cinematic, soundtrack supporting this dialogue. I start thinking that perhaps I will not meet these characters. Couldn’t this almost be anyone’s conversation? I watch passers-by watching me. I am completely comfortable in my voyeurism, elevated and aurally insulated. Shit weather is rolling down off Mount Wellington, it’s cold and windy and the square is emptying out. Behind the voices, the recognisable sound of falling water suddenly emerges and I immediately look to the fountain. The protagonists are easy to identify—not because they are miked up actors in a public space—but because they look and sound like they might be people with a disability.

An outline of the story is insufficient to explain this performance. However, as it develops it involves a young property developer named Alan who is desperate to buy $3000 worth of drugs from Gary and Steve. Like the businessman, I am unsure whether what ensues is merely the result of a miscommunication, or if the dealers have a very unorthodox way of doing business. The “goods” are never named and neither Steve nor Gary ever directly confirms they have them. The correct money is handed over but the trio never walk to the locker to collect because, as Gary explains, “Steve won’t leave that spot and I won’t leave him alone.” A distressed Steve has decided it’s time to be seen—he wants other people to value him as a full human being. The deal is off.

In desperation Alan calls in colleague Caroline, a corporate psychologist in the business of ‘change management.’ She tries all of her manipulative, condescending tactics and eventually loses her last thread of integrity when she tries, unsuccessfully, to lure him with the promise of sucking his dick. The executive pair leave in anger, chasing an alternative score. Steve and Gary are nonplussed. In fact, Steve feels better now.

The performance finishes and I am utterly bewildered. It’s like I never quite got to connect the dots, and yet I don’t feel it entirely went over my head either. I enjoyed the show, so why do I feel I don’t get it? And what were the ‘small metal objects’?

I’m thinking the title could refer to the money exchanged (though that was in paper notes) and Steve and Gary’s comment early on, “Everything has a fucking value!” Having the right change doesn’t necessarily get you what you want. Being loaded doesn’t make you happy. Being ‘less fortunate’ doesn’t always mean you’re missing out. Money, after all, is just small metal objects.

In a funny way the small metal objects could refer to the radio microphones. While these are hidden on Gary and Steve, Alan and Caroline wear highly visible headsets. This technology gives the high-powered professionals an aura of authority, like they’re privy to more information than the others. The radio microphones connect the audience to the action in a manner of surveillance, which in this age of terror, operates through the identification of difference.

It’s fair to say that the general public pay no attention to those performing out there in public space. Not even when Caroline yells insults at Steve. Not even when she’s pulling his arm and Steve cries out “I don’t want to go.” Suddenly this scene takes on the sickening likeness of a child-snatching in a crowded shopping centre, where later everyone wonders how no-one saw or did anything. How would you react if you saw a drug deal underway in public? Or an aggressive argument between a woman and man? Social awkwardness often leads us to look away thinking we’re not implicated, thinking, I’m sure they’re alright. How do you behave when simply you encounter someone with a disability?

Dependency is the recurring theme of this performance. Gary provides emotional support for Steve, who supports Gary when it comes to ‘doing business.’ Between those two there is a short discussion about pets. Caroline accuses Alan of displaying needy behaviour when he calls her for help, yet they are both desperate for the drugs. And underlying all this is the idea that people with disability are people with ‘special needs.’ Implied in this euphemistic phrase is the belief that these people depend on others to live an ordinary life. But there is nothing Alan or Caroline have that Gary or Steve really need or want, and they refuse to be used as mere conduits for a transaction.

There were aspects of Small Metal Objects I simply didn’t understand—Steve and Gary’s ‘business’ discussions for example. And I wonder if something was lost because the square was so quiet that day. Or maybe because the culture of Salamanca precinct is so tourist-driven that a little rain completely drains it of atmosphere. I imagine the experience would have been very different in the bustling civic spaces of Sydney’s Circular Quay or Melbourne’s Federation Square. And perhaps even the thoroughfare of Hobart’s greasy Elizabeth Street Mall (where, incidentally, I regularly witness public fights and intoxicated people) could have been a more fruitful setting. The enduring dynamic I am left contemplating is the friendship between Steve and Gary. Throughout all the assumptions, value judgements, transactions, pressures and attempted manipulation these two are like rocks in a stream. They have integrity, they stand by one another, they have love. They may also have had $3000 worth of drugs, but I’m still not sure about that.

Back to Back Theatre, Small Metal Objects, director Bruce Gladwin, co-devisers Bruce Gladwin, Simon Laherty, Sonia Teuben, Genevieve Morris and Jim Russell, sound composition/design Hugh Covill, Salamanca Square, Ten Days on the Island, March 28-31

Bec Tudor is a writer and researcher based in Hobart. Her interests include fine art, philosophy, environmental thought, education and community.

RealTime issue #0 pg. web

© Bec Tudor; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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